Oklahoma’s Senator James Lankford
By Ray O’Hanlon
The number of U.S. senators placing holds on Senate approval of the previously House approved extension of E-3 visas to Irish nationals appeared to be dwindling at presstime Tuesday.
Initially, six senators placed holds on the approved House legislation. It only take one hold in the Senate to stop legislation in its tracks.
By the end of last week the number of U.S. senators placing holds had fallen to three, they being Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and James Lankford of Oklahoma.
The offices of all three were being contacted over recent days by representatives of Irish American organizations including the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
By Tuesday it was looking as if Senator Lankford would end up being the final “hold.”
Backers of the visa legislation that passed the House of Representatives two weeks ago were hopeful that the concerns and/or objections of all three would be ultimately satisfied.
The reason for the initial six holds ranged from one senator wanting to double check with the Australians to see that they had no problem with the Irish getting on board what has up until now been a visa program open exclusively to Australian nationals.
Another senator was advocating the inclusion of South Korea in the E-3 program.
And another was placing a hold, as one source put it, “for no apparent reason.”
One of the final three, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, wants to see changes in an entirely different visa program, the H2-B, a program open to a large number of countries, Ireland included, that the Department of Homeland Security views as friends of the United States.
H2-Bs are temporary annual visas open to non-professional, non-agricultural, workers.
There were no indications that Republican Tillis had specific objections to expanding the E-3 program to Ireland.
At one point there was fear that a threatened government shutdown could stop the E-3 train in its tracks, but government funding was extended for another couple of weeks.
That said, continued disagreement between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders over the president’s desired border wall - disagreement which flared up anew Tuesday - was adding an element of renewed uncertainty to the Senate’s business.
The Senate is expected to remain in session up until Friday, December 21 so the prospect of time running out was not an immediate concern this week for Irish diplomatic and government representatives who have been working to have the E-3 program expanded to Irish nationals.